The darkness will set them free: Yellowjackets prepares for 'intense' season 2

An in-depth report from the set of the hit Showtime series’ sophomore run.

​​At first glance, the cabin seems cozy. The stone fireplace is home to the soothing crackle of flames. Lace curtains adorn frost-kissed windows. Outside, snow is falling. It really does seem cozy… if you ignore the screaming.

Beneath the frosted windows lie blood-stained sheets. Above them, an ever-growing number of antlers. And around the fireplace stands a group of teens, hand in hand, chanting: We hear the Wilderness, and It hears us. We hear the Wilderness, and It hears us. With each repetition, the words appear to gain power, and just as you think the Wilderness might respond, the director calls cut. A voice from behind the camera confirms: "Yeah, that's creepy as f---."

Yellowjackets, which follows a high school girls soccer team that's stranded in the wilderness for 19 months after their plane goes down, is in the middle of filming its highly anticipated second season (premiering March 24). It's November 2022, and the Vancouver set is every bit as ominous as you'd expect. For one thing, there's (fake) blood everywhere: in buckets, in Tupperware containers, in mugs, even on the hands of an actor who instinctively tries to shake yours before realizing. While we won't reveal what's going on during this particularly brutal day in the wilderness, it won't surprise viewers that, somehow, Misty's got blood on her glasses.

"I've become a fake blood expert," Samantha Hanratty, who plays teenage Misty, says. "It's so thick and sticky. Shaving cream is actually the best way to get it off."

When Yellowjackets premiered on Nov. 14, 2021, it didn't pull any punches. The Showtime series kicked off with a scene that made Lord of the Flies fans sit up a little straighter: one of the teenage girls running for her life before falling into a pit of spears. She's then drained of blood and eaten by her teammates.

"An early encapsulation of the idea was, 'What if the kids from Dazed and Confused became the Donner Party?'" explains Bart Nickerson, who created the series with his wife, Ashley Lyle. Nickerson says the couple has long shared a fascination with the story of the Uruguayan team from Alive. And as they worked together on Netflix's Narcos, they started talking about the many great female TV characters of the last 20 years. "So many of those stories are about being a woman in a man's world, and we wanted to try to create a story where that wasn't the point," says Lyle, who serves as co-showrunner alongside her husband and Animal Kingdom's Jonathan Lisco. "We were like, 'What if we just made a story that was about a woman's world?'"

The result is an addictively twisted mystery that spans 25 years. Because this story isn't just about the harsh reality of survival; it's also about the harsh reality of trauma. How do teenage girls become cannibals… and then how do they slip back into a normal life once they're rescued? (Or can they?) To tell the latter side of the story, the show jumps to 2021, where those same characters — or the ones who survived, at least — are now adults with careers and families. And yet, people never stop asking them about "what really happened out there."

As Melanie Lynskey's unhappy housewife Shauna tells a prying stranger in the pilot episode, "The truth is the plane crashed, a bunch of my friends died, and the rest of us starved and scavenged and prayed for 19 months until they finally found us. And that's the end of the story." Except that's just the beginning of the story.

Alongside Lynskey is Christina Ricci as perpetual outcast Misty, Juliette Lewis as the dangerously unmoored Natalie, and Tawny Cypress as the compulsively composed Taissa. The four survivors are forever linked by their unique experience (and their secrets). "There's a tug of war between reverence, sisterhood, and hatred," Lewis says. "They are stuck like glue to each other. Part of the pitch of the show was very much that what bonds you are the secrets you're keeping."

Those secrets also bonded season 1 viewers, who couldn't wait to share their theories on social media week after week. Was Adam (Peter Gadiot) secretly Javi (Luciano Leroux) all grown up? (He was not.) Was Lottie the one killed in the opening sequence? (Also, no.) In a world filled with binge viewing, Yellowjackets joined the small handful of shows currently on that delivered weekly mysteries worth talking about. 

'Yellowjackets' stars Kevin Alves, Courtney Eaton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Nélisse, Mya Lowe, Liv Hewson, and Jenna Burgess in season 2
'Yellowjackets' stars Kevin Alves, Courtney Eaton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Nélisse, Mya Lowe, Liv Hewson, and Jenna Burgess in season 2 | Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

"People seemed to either be watching it together or immediately connecting after to talk about it and have theories," Nickerson says, while Lyle calls out a specific Reddit thread where fans shared their weird dreams about the show. "We gave total strangers nightmares, I feel so powerful," she says with a laugh.

Like the fans, many of the actors reported having nightmares during filming. Also like the fans, the actors spend much of their time between episodes looking for answers. Mostly because they, too, know nothing. "They didn't tell us anything," says Jasmin Savoy Brown, who plays young Taissa. "So we all became our own citizen detectives, going to hair and makeup and wardrobe and getting whatever pieces we could." 

That team of young sleuths — including Hanratty's Misty, Sophie Nélisse's Shauna, Courtney Eaton's Lottie, Liv Hewson's Van, and Sophie Thatcher's Natalie — started a group text, where they often share information. Though sometimes the spoilers come to them. Hewson, who prefers they/them pronouns, found out about their character's wolf attack on set. "A crew member said to me, 'You're gonna have to do a makeup test for what the prosthetics will look like after the wolf attack,'" Hewson remembers. "And I was like, 'After the what?'"

Sophie Thatcher and Kevin Alves on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Natalie (Sophie Thatcher) and Travis (Kevin Alves) on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Even the adults don't have all the answers. "They told me the dog ran away," Cypress, who plays adult Taissa, says with a laugh. (Spoiler alert: She killed the dog.) But don't worry, it isn't a guessing game for everyone. The details might be subject to change, but unlike the former teammates now adrift in the woods, the writers know where they're going. "The original plan was five seasons, and we feel like we're still on track for that," Lyle says. "There's always room for things, but we don't really see this as being more than a five-season show."

And so far, the series will have at least three. Five episodes into its freshman run, Showtime renewed the drama for a season 2 (which will contain nine episodes). And the network doubled down in December, greenlighting a third. It's not a surprise, considering the show's success. Over the course of Yellowjacket's first 10 episodes, streaming viewership for the series quadrupled, until eventually, it averaged more than 5 million weekly viewers, making it Showtime's highest-viewed freshman series in almost six years (and the second-most streamed series in the network's history). With a 100 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and seven Emmy nominations, viewers and critics alike are clearly hungry for more. (Sorry.)

But first, we'll have to see who survives season 2.

Liv Hewson as Van and Jasmin Savoy Brown as Taissa on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Van (Liv Hewson) and Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

"I can't f---ing cry anymore today." 

Back on the Vancouver set, and back inside that cabin, the chanting has stopped, only to be replaced by sobbing. The screaming is now laced with heartbreak. Any hope of the Wilderness helping has been lost as tears now pool underneath Misty's blood-stained glasses. "We are the trauma timeline," Brown says. "It's simply going to get worse and worse. I don't know how we'll be standing by season 5."

Perhaps in part thanks to Lottie's leadership? One of the big reveals at the end of Yellowjackets' first season was that Lottie is the long-teased antler queen, offering up a sacrifice — a bear's heart — to the Wilderness in the finale. And when season 2 picks up two months after the death of Ella Purnell's Jackie, Lottie is still figuring out her new role as a leader of sorts. "It's not like she's chosen leadership," Eaton says. "It's slightly getting pushed on her."

Lottie's new role will cause tension among her teammates. "Natalie and Lottie form a really tense disconnect. "They're butting heads ideologically," says Thatcher, with Brown adding that "you're either on Lottie's page or you're not."

Meanwhile, Shauna is still grieving her best friend. "Because of the circumstances, she's not really coping the way you would normally cope," Nélisse says of her character. And if that's not enough for Shauna to deal with, she's also very pregnant. (As for those "eat the baby" theories, Cypress confirms there are a few lines the show won't cross: "They're not going to eat the baby," she says, before adding, "But beheading dogs? Totally.")

The baby might be off the menu, but as the snow continues to fall and the group eats the last of the bear they killed, they'll have to face whatever comes next. "Everybody's in this place of trying to get through the day," Hewson says. "We've established a domestic ritual, but none of us has a solution to how we're going to survive the rest of the winter. It's a shaky peace."  

And we have a feeling it won't last long. "If we do our jobs right, the eating of a person will not be the most transgressive thing that these young women do in the wilderness," co-showrunner Lisco says of what's to come. "That's just the tip of the iceberg."

Courtney Eaton, Sophie Nélisse, and Jasmin Savoy Brown on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Lottie (Courtney Eaton), Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), and Jasmin Savoy Brown (Taissa) on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Thanks to some casting news, we now know that at least two more women make it out of the woods alive: Lauren Ambrose joins this year as adult Van, while Simone Kessell takes on the role of adult Lottie. "I had watched season 1 and loved it," Ambrose says. "I was like, 'Why can't I be on this show?!' I think I manifested it."

If anyone knows a thing or two about manifesting something, it's Lottie. "She's come into the light," Kessell says of the grown-up version of the antler queen. "Bart said to me, 'She's kind of like a cool Jesus.' I genuinely think she thinks she's helping these people." (Kessell has already received messages from fans asking to join her cult. Sorry, her "intentional community." One fan asked if cats were allowed, and she'd like to go on the record saying, "No, you can't bring cats.")

Surprisingly — or maybe not — Van is who Lyle and Nickerson describe as the "healthiest of the unhealthy" when it comes to handling her past trauma. "Shauna has taken that experience and repressed it," Nickerson says. "Natalie has medicated against it. Taissa has done her best to move past it. Misty is sort of strangely unaffected by it, and Lottie has most actively denied it, at least when we first meet her."

Simone Kessell as adult Lottie on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Simone Kessell as adult Lottie on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

However, the women are dealing with more than just past trauma. By the end of season 1, Misty and Shauna had both committed murder, Lottie's followers kidnapped Natalie, and Taissa was elected senator just as her wife discovered her secret altar (complete with their dog's head). So yeah, they still have a lot to deal with.

"They're haunted by their guilt and their anger and their pain, but you know what else haunts them, whether they're ready to admit it, is the fact that they never felt in some ways more alive than when they were in the wilderness," Lisco says. "Maybe they went crazy, but it was also a world free of the stereotypes and expectations that society had thrust upon them, specifically as young women. There was a freedom in that kind of madness. So they want to get in touch with their primordial selves."

It's a pull fans have watched particularly with Shauna. She tries to be the good wife and mother, but every now and then she finds herself skinning the rabbit that's been messing up her garden. "She's buried something fundamental about herself very deep inside. You see it starting to unravel as she experiments with doing things that are risky, and eventually doing things that are very dangerous," Lynskey says of her character. "I think season 2 is trying to put the tiger back into the cage if she can."

Melanie Lynskey as Shauna and Warren Kole as Jeff on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Melanie Lynskey as adult Shauna and Warren Kole as Jeff on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

Misty, on the other hand, has never cared all that much about caging that part of herself. This year, she'll enter unfamiliar territory when she meets a fellow member of the Bureau of Citizen Detectives, Walter (played by new addition Elijah Wood). "His character is so fun," Ricci says. "It's interesting to see Misty, who's been so desperate for a connection, react to someone who is interested in her." Walter has some theories about Adam's death, which means Misty once again has to do whatever it takes to protect her friends.

"In season 1, they were running away from what happened in the woods," Lisco says of the grown-ups. "I think this season they're going to get caught. Their only path to continued survival is to integrate their worst selves into who they truly are."

Just how extreme will it get? Talking to EW a few days after wrapping season 2, Ambrose still hasn't quite decompressed from the experience of her final days on set. "It was just so intense," she says of making the finale. "How are we ever going to recover from that?"

Kessell's still working on it. After grabbing a glass of wine at the airport on her way home from filming, she admits, "I feel like I've been in a car accident. I'm still, like, shaking from it. It's insane."

Christina Ricci as adult Misty on 'Yellowjackets' season 2
Christina Ricci as adult Misty on 'Yellowjackets' season 2 | Credit: Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Perhaps the only thing more intense than the show itself is the pressure they all feel to deliver something that not only lives up to what they've already done, but surpasses it. Lyle remembers something a friend said before the show premiered: "He said, 'Don't worry. Nowadays, there's a billion shows, and there's a handful that people care about because they love them and a handful that people care about because they hate them, and everything else will just find its little audience.' We took such comfort in that, and then it felt like people really liked it and we were like, 'Oh s---. We really have to up the stakes in season 2.' We had to try to make a better season than we did last time."

"I started to get secondhand anxiety on the writers' behalf because the show was perceived so well. I was in a panic," Lynskey says. "I don't know one person that didn't come in terrified that we were all gonna f--- it up," adds Cypress.

Walking away from it now, they're feeling good… but it never hurts to say a quick prayer to the Wilderness.

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